Wedding Video Contradicts U.S. Denials
A videotape emerged today apparently showing the wedding party in Iraq that survivors say was attacked by U.S. warplanes last week in raids that killed up to 45 people.
The U.S. military has admitted launching air strikes at targets near the Syrian border last Tuesday but insists it attacked a safehouse for foreign insurgents and that there was no evidence of a wedding.
The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, told reporters at the weekend that there could have been some kind of celebration but said bad people have celebrations too.
He insisted there were no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration. However, the video obtained by APTN [Aboriginal Peoples Television Network]which lasts for several hoursshows a large wedding party, and separate footage shot by Associated Press cameramen the following day, shows fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans, and brightly colored beddings used for celebrations scattered around a bombed-out tent. There were also fragments of ordnance that appeared to have U.S. markings.
An AP reporter and photographer, who interviewed more than a dozen survivors a day after the bombing, were able to identify many of them on the wedding party video. The survivors say dozens of missiles were launched late at night after the festivities had ended and that women and children were among those killed, as were the bride and groom.
The U.S. military has launched an investigation into the raids on the village of Mogr el-Deeb, which is about five miles from the Syrian border, but maintains that the evidence suggests it was a safehouse for insurgents coming over the border.
Iraqi officials said at least 13 children were killed and the AP reporter obtained names of at least 10 whom relatives said had died. Brig Gen Kimmitt has denied finding evidence that any children died in the raid although he admitted that a handful of womenperhaps four to sixwere caught up in the engagement.
They may have died from some of the fire that came from the aircraft, he told reporters last week.
Bodies of five women were filmed by APTN. The survivors took them to the nearest town of Ramadi for burial last week. The dead included video cameraman Yasser Shawkat Abdullah who had been hired to record the festivities.
In the scenes he allegedly filmed before he died, a dozen white pickup trucks speeding through the desert escorting the bridal car, which is decorated with brightly colored ribbons. Upon her arrival, she is ushered into a house by a group of women, while outside, men recline on brightly colored silk pillows as boys dance to tribal songs.
A water tanker lorry can be seen in both the video shot by APTN and the wedding tape. In the tape, the singing and dancing goes on for a long time at the all-male tent set up in the garden of the host, Rikad Nayef, for the wedding of his son, Azhad, and his bride Rutbah Sabah.
The men later move to the porch when darkness falls. Children, mainly boys, sit on their fathers laps; men smoke an Arab water pipe, finger worry beads and chat with one another. It looks like a typical, gender-segregated tribal desert wedding.
As expected, women are out of sightbut according to survivors, they danced to the music of Hussein al-Ali, a popular Baghdad wedding singer hired for the festivities, who was also killed and was buried in Baghdad last week.
A stocky man with close-cropped hair and playing an electric organ features prominently in the wedding footage. Another tape, filmed a day later in Ramadi and obtained by APTN, showed the musician lying dead in a burial shroud. His face is clearly visible and the body is dressed in the same tan shirt he wore during his performance.
At about 3 am, we were sleeping and the planes started firing, said one of the mourners who spoke to AP last week and who gave his name only as Bassem. They fired more than 40 missiles. As soon as they started attacking, firing the first missile, I went away. I was running...there are no fighters. These are lies. Theres no resistance. Even the bride and the groom died.
Haleema Shihab, 32, one of the three wives of wedding party host Rikad Nayef, said she and her stepdaughter hid in a bomb crater.
U.S. soldiers appeared on the scene shortly after the bombardment. One of them kicked her to see if she was alive. I pretended I was dead so he wouldnt kill me, she said, adding that the soldier was laughing.
Fourteen-year-old Moza, Ms. Shihabs stepdaughter, lies on another bed of the hospital room. She was hurt in the leg and cries. Her relatives havent told her yet that her mother, Sumaya, is dead.
In all, 27 members of Rikad Nayefs extended familymost of them children and womenwere killed in the attack, according to surviving family members.
An explosion destroyed a car today near an entrance to the headquarters of US-led forces in central Baghdad. The U.S. military said four people died, and an Iraqi policeman added that the casualties were foreigners. U.S. soldiers quickly sealed off the area and tried to pull the men from the shattered car, said witness Kamel Raji.
The Guardian, May 24, 2004